More than 2 million Ontarians now without a family doctor: report
Approximately 1,700 family doctors needed to make up shortfall
The number of Ontarians without a family doctor has surpassed two million, according to a new report — just more evidence for some in the medical field that primary care is in crisis.
"I am not at all surprised," said Dr. Michael Green, co-lead investigator for Inspire-PHC, the health-care research group which released the data late last month.
"What I get all the time in my emails [are stories from] people whose doctor has retired, people having trouble getting in," he continued. "Very few practices, if any, [are] taking new patients."
While 1.8 million Ontarians didn't have a family doctor in 2020, that number has since swelled to 2.2 million, according to the update.
Green, who is also the head of family medicine at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., said part of the reason his group re-ran that data is because of complaints from the front lines — both from colleagues and patients.
Ontario's population growth accounts in part for the fact the number of people without a family doctor has ballooned, he said, but doesn't tell the whole tale.
The number of Ontarians without a primary care provider increased from 1.8 to 2.2 million (14.7% of the Ontario population) in 2022. 2/4 <a href="https://t.co/BNE78avYgr">pic.twitter.com/BNE78avYgr</a>—@INSPIRE_PHC
"People have lost their family doctor," he said. "So even with new providers coming in, certainly the number and percentage of people who are not attached has increased."
To make up for that shortfall, and without even considering physicians on the cusp of retirement, Green said Ontario would need approximately 1,700 new family doctors — which he calls "big numbers."
Burnout an ongoing issue
Part of the problem is that fewer students are choosing family medicine altogether, according to the Ontario College of Family Physicians.
More physicians are also choosing to retire early, said Dr. Mekalai Kumanan, the college's president. One big reason is that family medicine comes with an extreme administrative burden, Kumanan said, leading to burnout and making it an unattractive specialty.
"We know that family doctors can spend up to 19 hours each week doing paperwork," she said. "And really, when you think about that work, that is all done after we've done our clinical work."
Certain communities, like those in northern Ontario, are even more impacted by the doctor shortage, Kumanan said.
While fast-tracking foreign-trained doctors already in Ontario or increasing the number of residency spots may help alleviate pressure, Kumanan said there's no one-size-fits-all solution.
"I think we have to look at how we work as family doctors," she said.
With files from CBC Ottawa News at 6